Review: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)


How this film became a classic I’ll never know!

Story By: Kim Henkel & Tobe Hooper
Directed By: Tobe Hooper

At the end of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre I was left asking myself one question, who cares? I have revisited this movie more than once over the years and every time I ask the same question when the credits roll, who cares? I don’t ask myself that question for the first twenty or so minutes of the film, because that is the only time when anything remotely interesting is happening. I will give credit to Hooper for trying something different and for creating an iconic character, but beyond the strive for something different or a single iconic character The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a shallow imitator of a horror film.

As I said, the first twenty or so minutes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre are interesting. That time sets up the world of the film, the freakishness that is to come, the simplicity of it all and the characters we are to follow. Unfortunately Hooper doesn’t follow up on the majority of what he sets up during that opening twenty minutes. The characters never go anywhere, and I’m not even asking for deep characterization, but something to tether them to me, something to make me care at all about what happens to them.

The world Hooper sets up remains constant, it is always macabre and freaky, and this is one of the areas where the movie does excel. Set design is another, the inside of the Leatherface household does look remarkable, as do most of the assorted images we are granted of the Texas area the movie covers. This and the first twenty minutes are the only positives to be found in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

The rest of the film is mundane and predictable with not the slightest hint of suspense. If you want to see random kids enter a house, then disappear or a girl run through the movie and scream her head off to the point of annoyance then this is the film for you. Now, I understand that what I just described are present in a great number of horror films, but good horror films make you care or provide moments of suspense. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre never makes you care and it never makes you feel a moment of suspense. It also has Franklin, a character so annoying that I wanted to sock him in the jaw five seconds after he first opened his mouth.

If you want to see a good film with this premise then watch the 2003 remake, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and avoid the original if you can. One understands how to use suspense, how to make you recognize the characters in the film and care about them and how to leave you wanting more when the credits roll. That film is not the original and as I said in my by line, I will never for the life of me understand how The Texas Chain Saw Massacre became a classic!





8 responses to “Review: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

  1. You enjoyed the remake?

  2. Bill Thompson

    Yeah, I really enjoyed the remake. I thought it did a much better job with the characters and I liked the set-up of the story and the way the killings were handled better. I also thought Nispel had a better directorial eye, every movie he’s done since has sucked, but for one movie at least he impressed me.

  3. You miss the point.

  4. Bill Thompson

    No, I don’t.

  5. Are you kidding me? Do you know how many times the original TCM has been ripped off? Do you think that’s a coincidence? I think not! Anyone who understands the basics of film would know this movie is a CLASSIC for originality. What makes this film one of a kind is the story, cinematography, score, acting, location. The gritty look of the film and the execution of the direction gives the film a documentary feel, which adds to the realism of the movie, so it makes you feel like your really there. Not to mention the story was inspired from Ed Gein, to give a more realism to the story. Edwin Neal that played the hitchhiker was brilliant, and Franklins character was intentionally annoying so people would realize his situation. The movie relied on tension and suspense to scare people, instead of over glorified gore. You say there’s no real suspense! what movie are you watching sir? LOL. By the way I hated Nispels remake. The movie was so generic. If it wasn’t for Hoppers film, Nispels unoriginal remake would of never even been made. Tobe Hoopers TCM; Groundbreaking ORIGINAL independent horror film for it’s time. Nispels TCM; Just another poorly done MTV remake made purely for the MONEY!

  6. Thank you for telling me a whole lot that I already know, except for the last part, where we will disagree.

    Just because someone says a movie is a classic that doesn’t mean it’s a classic, the same goes for a movie being ripped off (even though TCM blatantly ripped off a lot from the slashers that came before it).

    Lastly, the “anyone who understands film” argument is tired and trite. Different people like different films, one man’s classic is another man’s garbage and vice versa, the everyone understands argument only serves to0 make the person using it look ignorant.

  7. Sadly, you’re reviewing the film out of the context of the time that it was made, without considering any of the socio-political aspects of the early 1970s (Vietnam War, Feminist movement, etc.) and with the perspective of a film reviewer after the passing of 35 years of horror films since the TCM was made.
    Do yourself a favour and investigate what Hooper has said about his film – how changes in the cultural and political landscape of the early 70s impacted the story and production. The gasoline shortages of the 70s, Nixon & Watergate, “the massacres and atrocities in the Vietnam War,” the Manson family murders, the split in family cohesion, etc. all played into the making of this film. I don’t know your age but if you were born and came of age after the 1970s you could easily miss the context in which the film was made and the social/political issues it reflects.

    Hooper cites the “lack of sentimentality and the brutality of things” in the media in regard to news reports on Vietnam. You could better understand why their isn’t much character development of the characters whom will become victims in the film if you see clips of news reports of the Vietnam War. During the late 60s and early 70s there were nightly news reports with footage of the war – many depicting senseless acts of violence on people that would mostly remain nameless. It was rare that you ever learned who the people being killed were.
    This isn’t something that you will experience with today’s highly censured news reports on Iraq & Afganistan.
    Hooper’s hope is that you have enough of the human sense of empathy that you don’t need “character development” to feel for the victim of senseless violence. That sense of empathy for another human being is what should drive you to care about what is happening to the characters in the film.

    It is a reflection of the times now that 35 years later how desensitized we have become to senseless violence that we require “character development” in order to have any empathy for another human being.

    Continuing on, if you compare Hooper’s TCM family of killers to the real life “family” that revolved around Charles Manson (again, an event of the early 70s, the time in which the film was made) you will see why there isn’t much character development. Like the Manson Family and the fictional TCM family – both group of murderers were practically unknown to the public before their crimes were committed. They came out of nowhere and there was little information about who they were.
    The only thing we know about them is they are insane, disturbed, and very dangerous.

    There are so many aspects of this film that you are missing and you could benefit from viewing the Dark Sky 2-disc DVD edition of the film. Go ahead and skip watching the film again if you want but please watch the extras. There are features in there that will put the film in context for you and hopefully make you understand that some films, like other art forms, are making a statement that reflects the times in which they are made.

    It would actually be ignorant to willfully remain uninformed about the film and the reasons behind Hooper’s production techniques and the layers of subtext of this film.

  8. I actually know all of that, I was a History major, and I didn’t miss it, it simply didn’t work for me. I understand what Hooper was trying to say, but I don’t feel he succeeded in saying it, nor do I feel that he works the various themes and subtexts into a cohesive whole movie.

    This isn’t the first time I watched TCM, the number of times is somewhere around five. Every time I watch it the film slides further and further down the scales for me. In a cinematic experience I do need to know my characters in order to feel some sort of empathy for them, at least I do in the type of movie Hooper tried to create. He tried to make more than a mindless action horror, and perhaps that was his greatest failing, because he tried but he failed. He created a scenario where the killings can’t be mindless, they need to have impact and resonance with the viewer or they end up as simple pings in a pond.

    I understand that many love this movie and I have tried watching it many times from many different perspectives, yet it never works for me because at the end of the day it isn’t a film I find to be crafted or put together all that well.

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